Warwickshire legend Dennis Amiss, who was Chief Executive at the time, looks back at how the special year unfolded.
There is very little that Dennis Amiss did not achieve during his mighty career in cricket as player and administrator but even he reflects on Warwickshire’s 1994 season as “unbelievable.”
The Bears’ famous treble – winning the County Championship, AXA Equity & Law League and Benson & Hedges Cup in the same year – is a unique achievement and likely to remain so.
We had 18,000 members – we’d never had that many in the history of the club.Dennis Amiss
It was a phenomenal display of sustained skill, delivered by a squad lifted to unprecedented heights by coach Bob Woolmer and captain Dermot Reeve. From a platform laid by Brian Lara’s brilliance, the squad built a season which galvanised the club, the region and English cricket and brought the Bears to global attention.
For Amiss, appointed chief executive just before the season, it was the most spectacular start to his new role at the club which he supported as a boy and then powered as a batsman through a career which brought him 43,423 first-class runs.
Amiss was among the finest batsmen of his generation. Yet much of his Warwickshire career was spent in a struggling team, so when his beloved Bears won the championship for the first time in 22 years, and two other trophies beside, he treasured it as much as anyone.
“It was a very special year,” Amiss said. “The right coach and the right overseas player were the catalysts and the pieces just fell into place.
“We had a bit of luck with Brian Lara because Manoj Prabhakar pulled out injured at a late stage so we needed an overseas player at short notice. Our chairman Mike Smith was out in West Indies with England, suddenly we hadn’t got an overseas player and Brian was scoring runs, so we said ‘let’s go for Lara.’ And we signed him for forty grand the day before he broke Gary Sobers’ record for the highest Test innings. We knew we’d got him cheap.
“It was a real coup for us and turned out brilliantly. Brian scored a stack of runs and scored them so quickly that the bowlers had plenty of time to bowl the opposition out twice.
“It just showed what an impact one man can have. The club and the area was buzzing. We had 18,000 members – we’d never had that many in the history of the club.”
If Lara’s influence was colossal, that of Amiss was also hugely significant. The squad that delivered the treble comprised strong characters, not all of whom got on and some of whom needed strong managing. The captain for one.
“We all know how much Dermot brought to the team as player and leader but at one point during ’94 he was struggling a bit on the field,” Amiss recalls. “He came into my office for a chat one day and I said ‘look mate, things are not going your way at the moment and everybody else is doing really well – have you thought about dropping yourself?’
“He wasn’t too receptive to the thought, but I’d sown the seed in his mind and that gave him a bit of a kick up the backside and then he started to really show what he was made of.
“Brian was a very different kettle of fish. He was a great player at the height of his career but that came with a bit of baggage. He went out there and got hundred after hundred but the other players never saw him away from the ground because his agent Jonathan Barnett had him going here, there and everywhere making money.
“Bob Woolmer kept coming in to see me about Brian and saying he doesn’t come to net practice and he doesn’t do this and doesn’t do that. I said, Bob, he’s just scored seven centuries and we’re winning every match – what do you want? He said we’ve got to control him and I said well if you try to control him perhaps he won’t score the runs and you won’t win the matches.
“In the end I said to Brian: ‘Let’s get away from the ground and go and have a chat.’ He was at the Belfry one day having a golfing lesson so I said ‘what about a knock?’ and he said yeah, three o’clock. I turned up at 2.30 – no Brian. It got to three o’clock – no Brian. At 3.15 out he came with the pro and said let’s go and I said all the tee times are taken now but the pro said ‘no, no, off you go.’
“All he was interested in was playing golf and talking golf but about halfway round, we were in a buggy together, and I said: ‘Mate, we’ve got to have a chat, you know. Bob and the players aren’t happy because you’re not doing these things,’ and he said: ‘But I’m scoring hundreds and we’re winning matches. I’m getting runs for them, what’s the matter with them?’ What could I say to that?
“I said ‘well, can you try and do some things for them, have a drink with them, let them know that you’re one of them. He said ‘okay’ and we went into the bar after the round – and there were all the Villa players and they were off up to Liberty’s!
“He did make an effort, but it passed quite quickly! As he pointed out, though, who could really complain? He batted brilliantly for us and really underpinned the treble.”
Lara, in his maverick way, delivered – and so did many others around him during that wonderful year at Edgbaston.
“We had Dermot, Tim Munton, Gladstone Small and Paul Smith taking wickets and Neil Smith had a great season with his spin,” said Amiss. “It was a young side, but experienced and it all came together.
“Mike Smith was brilliant as chairman, a great support to me as chief exec. Prior to that we hadn’t won enough trophies but Warwickshire is a big club and expectations should be high. When I became chief executive I reckoned it was my job to change the mentality and bring good players to the club.
“I said come on, let’s be a bit ruthless, without going over the top, and Mike really bought into that. Mike and I were leading it all as chairman and chief exec and I think it helped to have former England cricketers driving the team forward and driving the search for success.
“It was a fine side which deserved all the accolades they got and I’m delighted that the club is arranging a programme of events to celebrate the 25th anniversary next year. It was just a brilliant time to be around the club. The committee, the staff, the supporters, we were all in it together and enjoyed the ride. It was unbelievable.”